What is "God" (Hashem)?

And how can a rational person accept that there is such a thing?

Doesn't Objectivism rule out "God" as nothing but an invalid concept?

Objectivism has been seen as essentially atheist. If the understanding of "God" that was addressed and debunked by Ayn Rand is to be the standard of "theism", then Torah is atheist as well.

The idea of a "God" which exists outside of existence is simply words without meaning. Hashem did not create existence. He created the world. Despite the use of these terms as interchangeable, they are not. Nor, by the same token, is Hashem within existence.

The essence of the following explanation came from one of the most brilliant Objectivists it has been my privilege to meet. I have refrained from mentioning his name in this context, as this view is very controversial in Objectivist circles.

His analysis stems from an actual understanding of the words of the Bible and their etymologies, rather than the usual acceptance of translations of that document into other languages.

Anyone who desires more details about this is welcome to write to me.

Prior to the event we call Creation, Hashem can be best understood as existence. Raw existence, with potential but no actuality. Eternal, with no beginning and no end. But possessing consciousness. And will. If that's hard to imagine, give it up. No one has ever managed it. If you do, drop me a note.

The initial act of Creation was what the Sages call yesh mi-ayin. Which means "actuality from potential." The Hebrew word for this type of creative activity is bara. Subsequent creative activity is called asah ("Making"), or yatzar ("Forming"), and is all the manipulation of that which has already been brought into actuality.

As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote in his book Inner Space, the only good book for the layman on theoretical Kabbalah, or Jewish cosmology, the very concept of Creation is a problematic one:

On the one hand, we learn that God is utterly transcendental and thus totally different that anything else in creation. On the other, we learn that God's essence permeates all creation and gives it continual existence. In this sense, existence itself is merely a shadow or a mirror of God's power. As the Kabbalists explain, if God were to reveal Himself fully, creation and all that is in it could not endure and would be absolutely nullified. If God wold reveal Himself, there would be no possibility of independent existence on any level whatsoever. It is because God restrains and conceals Himself that creation can endure.
This involves one of the most important concepts in Kabbalah - the Tzimtzum-Contraction or Self-Constriction of God's light. The reason for the Tzimtzum stems from a basic paradox. God must be in the world; yet, if He does not restrain Himself from it, all creation would be overwhelmed by his essence.
The reason for the Tzimtzum, therefore, was so that creation could take place. Creation must exist as an independent entity and therefore cannot be totally infused with the Divine essence. At the same time, however, it cannot be said that God's essence does not infuse all creation, since, "There is no place empty of Him." God must therefore divorce Himself from creation, yet, at the same time, He must also remain intimately connected with it. This is the primary paradox of creation.

The world as we know it serves as a filter from the full extent of Hashem, much in the same way as the human brain filters out most of the sensory input we receive. It is known that without this biological filtering mechanism, we would be overwhelmed by sensory impressions and be unable to function. Prophecy and other states of enlightenment are essentially the achievement of states of consciousness in which the individual succeeds in perceiving past one or more levels of this filter.

A useful analogy is that of "Magic Eye" pictures. These are pictures with the equivalent of visual static printed on top of them. Only by focussing in a particular way can you see past the stuff on the top to the underlying picture. Many people can stare and stare and never see the picture underneath. But with the correct instructions, most people can, eventually.

In our case, the "static" is the world created by Hashem. This world is not the whole of existence, but a subset of that existence. Which gives an insight on what happens after death. This is essentially taken from an essay by Rabbi Kaplan which I believe appeared in a collection of his entitled, If You Were God. It has been at least 11 years since I read the essay, though, and I apologize if I have taken liberties with the content.

Hashem is aware of what we do. We exist, in a manner of speaking, in His memory. At any given point, everything we have done, everything we have thought, all that exists in Hashem's "mind." This can be thought of almost as a perpetual "backup" of our essential selves.

When we die, our body stops working. And the self contained in that body simply stops. Finis. But the backup is still there. And unlike static media, such as magnetic tape and crystal matrices, the "matrix" of Hashem's memory is not so limited. Thus, our consciousness continues, within the Mind of Hashem.

One difference between that form of existence and our current one is that the filter of the world no longer comes between us and existence. Or more properly speaking, fewer levels of filtering are there for us. To use the Magic Eye analogy once more, it is as if we are presented all of a sudden with the underlying picture, and unable to pretend that we can't see it.

Jewish sources speak of Gehinnom. Some have understood this to be the Jewish equivalent of Hell. Hell is a gruesome concept, a vengeful one which belies the characterization of Christianity as a religion of love. But what is Gehinnom?

Kabbalah, or the Torah of Nistar, speaks of 5 dimensions, or 10 directions in the world:

  1. Up and down
  2. Left and right
  3. Forwards and backwards
  4. Future and past
  5. Good and evil

The first four of these are the familiar dimensions of space/time. The fifth dimension is what is often referred to as the "spiritual" dimension. I dislike that term, because it sounds spooky and flaky and not at all like what it really is. But leave that for now.

The fifth dimension is one of quality, and not of quantity. In other words, while two objects may be compared in the first four dimensions by their size and position and time, in the fifth dimension, they may only be compared in terms of how similar or dissimilar they are. Two objects that are more similar, are "closer" to each other in this dimension.

As a digression, this is the key to the statement of the Sages that an angel can have but a single mission and that two angels cannot have the same mission. Since angels exist essentially in this "spiritual" dimension, if they were to have the same mission, they would be coexistent, and there would only be a single angel. And if a single angel were to have two missions, it would, by definition, be two angels.

The "directions" of good and evil are defined as similarity (proximity) or the lack of same to Hashem. In other words, Hashem can be thought of as "existing" at the polar extreme of "good".

Now, back to existence after death and Gehinnom. To the extent that a person has made himself more similar to Hashem, which is accomplished by following the instructions given us for that purpose at Mount Sinai, both for Jews and for non-Jews, he will find himself closer or further away from Hashem. With full and unavoidable awareness of why that is.

To the extent that one finds himself further away from Hashem, he will be anguished and disoriented. Gehinnom is this state. And the further away from Hashem, the longer it takes to integrate and come to terms with that fact. The Sages state that no one spends more than a single year in this state, and most people far less.

This leads to another issue. The issue of Kaddish, which we say for a close relative for 11 months after his or her death. Anyone who has ever looked at the text of Kaddish has seen that it says nothing whatsoever about death. The truth is, Kaddish is a prayer and an affirmation that Hashem will bring the culmination of history speedily. When a person acts against the will of Hashem, not only does he distance himself from Hashem, but he endangers all of creation. All of Hashem's plan for the world. Saying Kaddish is like speaking soothingly and calmingly to someone in pain. We are telling the soul which is dealing with the repercussions of its acts that despite all the mistakes it made, Hashem's plan will succeed. That all will be well.

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